Is Christian baptism intended to be a public demonstration of faith?
It's what many claim is GOD's purpose for baptism. Let's see what the Scriptures teach.
Welcome to part 9 of my biblical baptism series. These posts build on each other. If you need to catch up, here are links to the previous posts:
- Is Scripture Descriptive or Prescriptive?
- Defining 'baptism'
- The Baptism of John
- Why Was Jesus Baptized?
- The Baptism of the Holy Spirit
- The Baptism that Jesus Commanded
- The Biblical Purpose of Water Baptism
As I mentioned in the previous post, today's most popular belief regarding water baptism is that it is a form of public demonstration—a declaration, of sorts—about the person's intentions to follow Jesus.
The idea that is presented by those who hold this view is that the individual's baptism would be seen by non-Christians and would open a door for sharing the gospel with unbelievers.
The idea sounds plausible enough, but is this what the Bible teaches?
Let's consider the evidence together.
First, no where in the New Testament do we find a statement that water baptism is intended to be a public declaration.
Second, when we read the conversion accounts in the book of Acts, no emphasis is placed on whether unbelievers witnessed the individuals' baptisms.
Additionally, while it very well may have occurred, no where do we read of an evangelist using someone's baptism itself as a conversation-starter with unbelievers.
It is an assumption, at best, whether any unbelievers witnessed the baptism of:
- the Samaritans (see Acts 8:12-13),
- the Ethiopian eunuch (see Acts 8:34-39),
- Saul of Tarsus (see Acts 9:17-18; 22:12-16),
- Cornelius and family (see Acts 10:24, 44-48),
- Lydia and family (see Acts 16:13-15),
- the Philippian jailer and family (see Acts 16:30-34),
- Crispus and family (see Acts 18:7-8), and ...
- the Ephesian disciples (Acts 19:1-5).
And if the focus of baptism were to create evangelism opportunities, what value would having only fellow Christians witness the baptism bring?
Third, this view assumes that water baptism is primarily—if not entirely—for the benefit of other people.
Yet, what we see stated repeatedly in Scripture is that water baptism is for the benefit of the one being baptized.
I have provided the evidence of this, in detail, in "Baptism Series Part 8 - The Biblical Purpose of Water Baptism."
As of this writing, a quick Google search of "purpose of baptism" lists this article from about.com as the top hit.
Overall, I really like the article as it seeks to provide just the facts—an approach I strive to follow as well—and the Scriptures used to form its conclusions.
I find it humorous and sad (mostly just sad) that the only "purpose" of baptism in this article that does not include Scripture to support it is:
"Water Baptism is a public testimony - the outward confession of an inward experience. In baptism, we stand before witnesses confessing our identification with the Lord."
So, to answer our original question, when I consider the biblical evidence, I find that, while it is true that a person who is baptized is certainly making a statement about their faith and their desire to follow Jesus, the emphasis in Scripture is upon the one being baptized and not the witnesses (if any).
Scripture gives no weight or importance to whether there should be any witnesses (other than the baptizer).
This is logical when we recognize the biblical purpose of water baptism—a personal action in obedient response to accept GOD's free gift of salvation.
To fail to recognize the significance of the believer's water baptism being the point at which the blood of Jesus washes their sins away or to improperly elevate the importance/necessity of any public declaration is a critical and potentially eternal destiny-altering mistake.
I believe this "baptism is a public declaration" doctrine is rooted in a misunderstanding of the harmony between grace, faith and works, which is the subject of the next post in this series.
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Read Part 10 here:
Continue to part 10, "Faith, Grace and Works."